'A Monkey Could Do What I Do' — The Joy of Working Retail

A protest in Utah against Wal-Mart
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times business section features Cynthia Norton, 52, one of 1.7 million Americans who have lost their clerical or administrative jobs.

She’s now a cashier at Wal-Mart:

The tough environment has been especially disorienting for older and more experienced workers like Cynthia Norton, 52, an unemployed administrative assistant in Jacksonville.

“I know I’m good at this,” says Ms. Norton. “So how the hell did I end up here?”

…[But] since she was laid off from an insurance company two years ago, no one seems to need her well-honed office know-how.

Ms. Norton is one of 1.7 million Americans who were employed in clerical and administrative positions when the recession began, but were no longer working in that occupation by the end of last year…

This “creative destruction” in the job market can benefit the economy…

But a huge group of people are being left out of the party….

Ms. Norton has spent most of the last two years working part time at Wal-Mart as a cashier, bringing home about a third of what she had earned as an administrative assistant. Besides the hit to her pocketbook, she grew frustrated that the work has not tapped her full potential.

“A monkey could do what I do,” she says of her work as a cashier. “Actually, a monkey would get bored.”

I’m writing about this depressing trend in my book about retail — now “home” to plenty of people wearing aprons and plastic badges and making single-digit/hour wages who once dreamed of a better life, and perhaps enjoyed one.

I did her job, in a mall for a major clothing company, for two years part-time. By the end, I thought my brain might turn to oatmeal. Folding T-shirts and asking people for their zip codes and sweeping the floor is in no way stimulating. It is repetitive drudgery and will kill your spirit if it never leads to more money or challenge, as it typically does not.

Starting over, single at 52, is no picnic.